The present study focuses on the question whether the Russophone population in Estonia will remain a relatively diffuse assemblage of individuals with some similar features and interests, or will it develop into a collective subject, an ethnic group, which is characterised by a distinct group self-awareness and collective behavioural strategies with relation to the Estonian state and the Estonians. The previous analyses have paid more attention to the relative deprivation and ambiguous political loyalty of the Russophone population. Collective mobilisation has been regarded as a possible response to the political exclusion. The conceptual starting point of the present study is that collective self-concept can be formed when the members of a community share certain symbols, are united with common meaningful space, which enables them to communicate their experiences and desires (Anderson, 1983; Cohen, 1985). The empirical premise of the study proceeds from the notion of temporal continuity of Estonian language serving as the central factor in the reproduction of the Estonian ethnic identity. This reflects for example in the strategies of language choice by the Estonians in direct communication (Bourhis, 1979). Also, Estonian legislation de facto rests exclusively on the premise of language and not on nativity. The study raises a thesis that because of the linguistic diversity of Estonian society, there is a possibility that a new collective identity of those Russophone residents who had defined themselves as Soviet citizens may emerge as an exclusive cultural group. In other words, the imperial national identity can be transformed into an ethnic identity that is based on the perception and communication of cultural distinctiveness.

The publications that serve as the basis of this dissertation deal with the instrumental and symbolic significance of Estonian and Russian in the intergroup and intragroup interaction, linguistic behavioural strategies, and the relations between language use and identity in Estonian society.

From the methodological point of view the study can be divided into two parts. The main theses concerning the existence and distribution of the studied phenomena were advanced on the basis of a standardised survey of a representative sample of the Russophone urban population in Estonia. Qualitative research methods were used in order to understand the phenomena and processes claimed to be the basis of the surveys. The aim was to collect information about the processes of communication - linguistic behavioural strategies and the significance ascribed to the latter by participants in the situations - in an authentic form, in situ. In statistical terms these samples are non-representative, as the task was not to describe the scope or distribution of the phenomenon but an analysis of the ongoing microprocesses.

The thesis consists of the following studies (see the list of original publications):

Study I provides an overview of the political context of the choice of individual or collective strategies facing the Russophone population in Estonia. It analyses the intragroup differentiation of the Russophone population and its relations with the Estonians. The analysis is based on the results of a standardised survey that was conducted by a number of researchers using a statistically representative sample of the adult population of Estonia, including an original study by the author of this dissertation in 1995. Agreeing with David Laitin (Laitin, 1996a: 20-23, Laitin, 1996b), the authors emphasise the significance of the problems that are related to the appreciation and acquisition of the Estonian language in the realisation of the possible development scenarios of Estonian society. The primary issue is the atomisation of the relationship state-individual versus the mobilisation of group strategies. The analysis determined the central objective of further research. Will the appreciation of the Estonian language, its acquisition and/or usage strategies refer to the beginning of intragroup interpersonal 'assimilative competition'? Or is there some readiness to generate a collective resource on the basis of the linguistic distinction that would serve as a basis for the restoration of the positive self-esteem and the demand for special treatment?

Study II analyses changes in the convictions and linguistic strategies that are related to the Estonian language from 1990 to 1997. Following the theory of John Edwards about the integrative (symbolic) and instrumental (communicative) roles of language in society, the aim of the study was to explore the instrumental and symbolic value of Estonian for the Russophone population. The study also aimed at identifying the changes and finding out how a more general evaluation of the language is related to linguistic behavioural strategies. The analysis is based on a comparative poll of 15-to-40-year-old Russophone urban dwellers in 1995 and 1997. The resulting thesis is that the instrumental value of the Estonian language has increased while its integrative value has decreased. The symbolic and instrumental roles of language are interrelated in society, and they compensate each other. Consequently, the Russian language may have undergone the opposite process - some decrease of its instrumental role may have been accompanied by an increase in the awareness of its symbolic value for the Russophone population.

Study III focuses on checking the likelihood of David Laitin's scenario of 'competitive assimilation' or the 'cascade effect' followed by a possible identity shift. The analysis is based on the 1997 survey of 15-to-40-year-old Russophone urban dwellers. The analysis indicated that there is little ground to expect a more intense use of Estonian than before in the near future. For Russian speakers Estonian-language communication is restricted to certain spheres and groups of people (e.g. school, workplace).

The second part of the article discussed the impact of Estonian-language use on one's identity. A comparative test was conducted to establish the impact of language use and other factors on one's ethnic or cultural self-categorisation (Russian-centred identity) and on one's civic or territorial self-categorisation (Estonian-centred identity). It appeared that the use of Estonian/Russian is an important factor in the formation of the identification mechanism in comparison with age, citizenship, educational orientation, homeland identity, and other features. This study enables us to make the following claim. As Estonian society is governed by clear-cut symbolic borders that are established by the language, then the emergence of a double identity (Berry, 1992), which would correspond to one's instrumental skills, is inhibited. More frequent language use would rather make the need to reach the 'final' self-determination more acute.

The aim of Study IV was to specify a circumstance that was revealed in Study III. Namely, the school is a rather 'closed' sphere, as far as the use of Estonian is concerned. The communicative experience that is acquired there is not extended to the other spheres. Using the method of conversational analysis, we checked the following hypothesis. It is likely that the linguistic experience that one can gain (only) at school may not motivate the Russophone youngsters well enough to sustain spontaneous everyday communication with their Estonian peers because they have no command of the communication strategies of that foreign language. The hypothesis was confirmed on the basis of the examples analysed. The study enables us to make the following generalisation. The macrolevel conditions of a society, e.g. the educational system and the decades-long tradition of the two communities to live by themselves, do not create the prerequisites or social pressure that are necessary for the development of communicative competence in the course of more frequent (forced) communication.

Study V deals with the linguistic strategies of variously aged Russian youngsters with various language skills who attended Estonian-language schools. The study proceeded from Laitin's claim that it is the long-term strategies of the Russian families in the planning of the education of their children that forms the key issue in the choice between collective versus individual strategies. The analysis is based on non-standardised personal interviews with Russian children and youngsters who attend Estonian-language schools. The results confirmed the claim that an increase in the instrumental significance of Estonian is accompanied by an increase in the role of Russian as a marker of group-belonging manifestation and the intergroup symbolic border. It is especially true about the consciousness of those people who use Estonian on a regular basis and who spend most of their time in the environment where Estonian culture predominates. The study provided substantial additional proof to the claims made in the dissertation. The multiethnic classes in Estonian school can be considered a quasi-experimental model of the future. We can assuming that the state is going to pay more attention to education as the central factor that shapes the cultural homogeneity of society (Gellner, 1983).

Based on the studies, the dissertation concludes that there exists an important prerequisite for the emergence of a collective identity of the Russophone population on the basis of ethnic and cultural features - the linguistic distinction between the two groups in the long-term perspective. Its symbolic significance as a marker of group belonging or social role is reproduced on a daily basis in mutual interaction.


The main conclusions of this dissertation are the following:

1. The role of the Estonian language in society has to be examined in two separate dimensions. The instrumental value of the language is expressed in the language requirement as an economic and political instrument for the establishment of the individual-state relationship and the (non-)recognition of this requirement. The symbolic value of the language is established in the interaction between two groups - the Estonians and the Russophone population. The acceptance of Estonian as a social norm is ambivalent - it actually means a choice between the competition of the group members and the possibility to convert the language into an intragroup resource (which would make it possible to demand special treatment). This choice determines whether the collective or individual strategies will be adopted with regard to the Estonian state and the Estonians. In fact, he Russophone population in Estonia has not made this choice as yet (Study I).

2. The Russophone population is beginning to realise the symbolic value of the Russian language as the basis for a common identity and is going to use it in communication as a socially significant group distinction (Studies II, III and V):

2.1. The choice of language for communication with the other group (Estonians or speakers of Russian respectively) is a clear-cut manifestation of one's group belonging; it serves as a means to re-establish the (historical) symbolic boundary between the two groups (Studies III and V).

2.2.1. The intensity of Estonian language use is an important factor inshaping the self-identification mechanism in comparison with such indicators as citizenship, educational orientation, and patriotic feelings. The self-identification of the persons who communicate more frequently in Estonian gets the more diffuse on the imaginary Russian - non-Estonian scale, the more frequently these persons use Estonian when talking to Estonians (Study III).

2.1.2. Persons who have an active command of Estonian prefer to address their Estonian partners in Estonian or on certain occasions also in Russian. However, they try to avoid intermittent (functional, purpose-based) code switching between Estonian and Russian (Studies III, IV and V).

3. The symbolic and instrumental functions of Estonian and Russian are mutually related in Estonian society on a compensatory basis with the purpose of securing one's group distinction. In case the instrumental function of Estonian decreases because the corresponding function of Russian has increased, the symbolic function of Estonian as an indicator group belonging will increase, too. And, reversely, an increase in the instrumental function of Estonian will be accompanied by an increase in the symbolic role of Russian for the Russophone population (Study II, III and V):

3.1. The symbolic value ascribed to the Estonian language by the Russophone population rose at the beginning of the transitional period, but it has dropped now. At the same time, its instrumental value has remained rather high (Study II and III).

3.2. The Russian youngsters who study in the Estonian-language environment work out their own strategies for communication in various situations and with different partners. The choice of the language of communication is primarily determined by the social role of the partner. They would try to avoid, however, repeated functional code switching during the conversation (including the interpreting function in a mixed Estonian-Russian company) (Study V).

4. The linguistic distinction between the two groups will remain in a longer perspective. There will be no linguistic assimilation (Studies II, III, IV and V).

4.1. For the majority of Russophone residents the use of Estonian is restricted to certain spheres and linguistic groups such as one's workplace or school. They do not extend the gained experience to other linguistic groups; instead, they switch to Russian (Studies II and III).

4.2. The development of communicative competence depends on the existence of the relevant linguistic groups in the private sphere such as friends and acquaintances. Thus, it depends on the experience of spontaneous everyday conversation, which is an area of linguistic competence that is difficult to master (Studies III and IV).

4.3. School-based linguistic competence is insufficient for the Russian-speak-ing youngsters to gradually develop their communicative experience in various social spheres through interaction with Estonians (partly) in Estonian (Study IV). Therefore, the change in the scheme how Estonians and Russophone residents communicate with each other necessitates a revision of the language-teaching paradigms, which would, in fact, be a long-term process.

5. There exists an important prerequisite for the emergence of a collective identity of the Russophone population on the basis of ethnic and cultural features - the linguistic distinction between the two groups in the long-term perspective. Its symbolic content as an indicator of group belonging or social role is reproduced on a daily basis in mutual interaction (Studies II, III, IV and V).

In conclusion, the current study joins into the boarder, interdisciplinary discussion about the formation of collective identity among Russophone population of Estonia with following argumentation:

On the one hand, the linguistic prescription of the political context, and, on the other hand, the established patterns of intergroup interaction bring into the consciousness of the Russophone population the role of the common language of communication as a symbol of group exclusiveness. Citizenship and other laws amplify this process, causing the dilemma whether one should overcome one's linguistic distinction when competing with others on an individual basis or use it as a common resource. Therefore, the linguistic diversity between the two groups, the symbolic significance of which is reproduced in the interaction between the two groups as an indicator of the belonging or role of the speaker, is likely to remain in the longer perspective. It will serve as a prerequisite for the development of the collective self-consciousness of the Russophone population as an ethnically and culturally exclusive group.